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Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Other Fiction

The Man He Never Was
Rubart, James
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

James Rubart has been one of my favorite Christian authors for a long time, and his latest, The Man He Never Was, does not disappoint. This is not just “a modern re imagining of Jekyll and Hyde,” it is a story of one man’s radical journey to discover what true love really looks like and the freedom we find through redemption.

Torren Daniels is a regular guy pursuing the career of his dreams. A football star with a loving family and everything to lose. He lives for the game, taking out his anger and frustration like most guys on the football field, through the game. But one day when he goes to far, his perfect life and career fall apart and he is left with nothing but his anger, frustration and rage at himself and his family.

Fast forward eight months, Torren has disappeared and everyone, including his wife and family, believe he is dead. Until one day he shows up in a hotel room with nothing but his wallet, the clothes on his back, and no memory of his life for the past eight months. But one thing he does know, he has come back different. More different than he has ever been before. The anger and frustration he has dealt with all of his life, seems to be gone. Instead being replaced with love, patience, and kindness, but are these changes truly real or are they simply an illusion?

What follows in the preceding days, is not only a physical journey to discover what happened to him, but a spiritual one that reveals the struggle of good and evil we all face inside ourselves and the redemptive freedom we can experience when Christ’s true love is set free within us.

Rubart’s storytelling gets down to the issues in a fast-paced way that does not dwell on flourishes and world building, as much as it does on character development. Torren is not a likeable character especially at the beginning of the book, but as the book progresses, and he goes on this journey, we see how the other relationships in his life, shape how his character responds. The other character’s in the book likewise are shaped by, and changed by, how his character responds to them, especially Torren’s wife.

Rubart’s story is highly complex, and as the story unfolds and the layers are peeled back, we see the struggle that is really going on inside Torren. Rubart approaches issues such as broken relationships, anger, loss, forgiveness, and abandonment in a way that is both realistic and extremely relatable. These issues and how they shape his character’s lives, also help shape the timber and tone of the overall story and come to a head in the conclusion of the story in an important and life changing way.

Rubart’s stories have always been complex and interesting. But one of the things I have always loved about him as an author and continue to love about him, evident in this book and the others I have read, is the way he has a way of presenting spiritual truths in a highly complex and original way but within the real world and in a way that is not overbearing, and is extremely relatable. The Man He Never Was, does not just present an updated version of the story of Jekyll and Hyde but takes the story and makes it real in a way that I never considered or imagined. Rubart takes the characters of Jekyll and Hyde and presents them as allegories as he explores the battle of good versus evil that is constantly going on inside each one of us.

Thank you to Netgalley and Thomas Nelson Fiction for an E-Arc of this book for review. This book is out February 20 but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Sourdough
Sloan, Robin
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is.... very hard to categorize. I read it because I LOVED Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, which was also kind of quirky. Lois, an engineer at a robotics company, is given a special sourdough starter by the odd owners of a small restaurant which closes unexpectedly and without much explanation. The starter has some unique properties, and Lois ends up becoming quite obsessed with its care and development, joining a very unusual and exclusive farmer's market to sell the bread she makes. An interesting tale of the melding of traditional skills and technology.

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Awards:
The Snow Child
Ivey, Eowyn
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Set in the 1920’s, this is the story of Jack and Mabel, a childless couple homesteading on the Alaskan frontier. The workload is never-ending, and without children to help with plowing, planting and harvest, they struggle not only to survive, but to avoid losing themselves to despair and disappointment. It is a story not only of survival and grit, but also of the kindness found in a community of like-minded individuals and families. This theme is typical of much historical fiction about western expansion and pioneer life, but this story holds an unexpected and delightful twist, where magic, reality and fairytales intersect. The first snow of the year is met with a playfulness that is not typical of Mabel and Jack. They end their snowball fight by building a snow-child near their cabin, complete with mittens, a hat, and arms made from twigs. The next day, they discover that their snow child was destroyed during the night – likely by wild animals. Their journey from that point is full of hope and expectation. The story has a dream-like, ethereal quality, yet the author maintains the sense of solidity that is required for historical fiction to work. The pace is slow, but fits well with the time and place. I sincerely enjoyed this author’s first novel. It made me think about the importance of accepting others as they are – always an important consideration. I have Eowyn Ivey’s second book in my “to read” stack right now, and will eagerly read her future offerings.

Reviewer's Name: Laura F.
The Vegetarian
Kang, Han
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In this inventive South Korean novel (based on an earlier short story by the author), a woman decides to become a vegetarian after a disturbing, blood-soaked dream leaves her convinced that she needs to purify herself. Yeong-hye remains largely a mystery to us throughout the novel -- we hear about the situation mainly from her husband, brother-in-law, and sister, and they're often more interested in what they want from her (passivity, "normal" behavior, sexual gratification) than in understanding what's happening inside her mind. It's interesting to watch the escalation of behavior that's considered inappropriate; even the most mild changes to her routine provoke violent reactions and eventually lead her family members to cross lines of their own. At first, not eating meat alone is shocking and indicative of disrespect for her husband, then a refusal to wear a bra, then a discomfort with speaking -- and the gap widens more and more between Yeong-hye and the people around her as she withdraws from the world in her obsession with becoming more plant than animal.

Still, despite the oddity of the premise, it reads more like horror than comedy, and there was some real emotional weight to Yeong-hye's problems and to the exploration of the internal lives of her family as they react to her rebellion in increasingly bizarre ways. I liked the first section (dealing with the destruction of Yeong-hye's marriage) more than others, but they were all fascinating, and the sister's perspective helped bring things to a satisfying conclusion. Some parts were a bit too on the nose for my taste, but it was an engrossing read overall. There was a lot of reflection on the position and treatment of women in modern-day South Korea, which may interest some readers, as well as a more general look at the everyday violence around us, people's inner desires, and the pressure to conform. (I'd give this 3.5 stars if I could, but I rounded up because the writing deserved it.)

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
Awards:
The Nest
Oppel, Kenneth
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Steve's baby brother is sick. Like, probably going to die soon sick. So, when Steve is visited in his dreams by the wasps living in the nest over his house, and they offer to fix the baby, Steve feels like all of his problems are being solved...until he realizes the solution is perhaps not as perfect as it originally seemed.

This is one weird, creepy little novel. I listened to it (and apparently it's illustrated, so I missed the illustrations), and narrator was a little blah at first, but later on in the story I realized that that was probably somewhat intentional. The first disk was a little slow for me, but by the final disk, I was sitting in my driveway listening because I just had to know what was going to happen. Wow. I've never read anything quite like this, and while I won't say that I loved it, I did ultimately enjoy it.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Raven Boys
Stiefvater, Maggie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Blue Sargent is not a psychic. Her mom is a psychic. Her aunts are all psychics. But Blue has another skill - she can amplify psychic power. So every year on St. Mark's Eve, she accompanies one of the "real" psychics to
greet the ghosts of the people who will die in the next year. Usually, she sees nothing. But this year, she sees the ghost of a boy: Gansey. Later, Blue and Gansey have a meet-not-cute, and Blue finds herself swept along with Gansey and his friends Noah, Adam and Ronan on an epic quest to find a long lost Welsh king...because Blue thinks that this king might be the only thing that can save Gansey.

First, I love the way Stiefvater writes. She manages to imbue whimsy and/or something otherworldly (and often slightly sinister) into almost every paragraph, and her descriptions are often at once hilarious and spot on. For example:

April was a bad time for the Aglionby boys; as it warmed up, the convertibles appeared bearing boys in shorts so tacky that only the rich would dare to wear them.

or

Ronan kept staring at Whelk. He was good at staring. There was something about his stare that took something from the other person.

Great, unique descriptions. I just love her writing and her ability to make the reader feel like they've known the characters forever.

On top of that, the plot is simply and uniquely marvelous. I had never heard of Glendower (our long lost Welsh king), and this story felt really fresh, even though I was reading it for the third time. A colleague thought it was boring, and I will concede that it gets off to a bit of a slow start to allow
for world-building and character development, but I DARE you to try to read the last 100 pages or so in more than one sitting.

It's just soooooooooooooooo goooooooooooooooooooooooooood.

5 unreserved stars. J'dore.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Bach, Richard
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Back in my younger days I may have given this book 4 or 5 stars. Now I'm older and know better. A lot of the wise and enlightened sayings were really just a bunch of hooey. But I did get two things out of it. The first was the story in the beginning about the creature in the river letting go of the bottom and rising up to be carried along by the current. The second was the comparison of death with jumping into a cold, deep lake. It is scary because you don't know what's down there along with the initial shock of the cold water. But once you're in it's okay, even refreshing.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Applegate, Katherine
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This was such a great novel. So sweet and life affirming. I loved Ivan and Ruby and wanted them to be happy. I thought the novel might have gone a darker route, but I'm glad it didn't. A sweet, quick read.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Palahniuk, Chuck
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is one of Chuck Palahniuk's best novels. It's everything you love about any of his other books, but it's nothing you'd expect. It's written in an interview-esque style, detailing the life of Buster "Rant" Casey, one of the most notorious and mysterious serial killers. It's funny, it's shocking, it's utterly mind-blowing. One of those novels you'd hate to ever put down.

Reviewer's Name: Cassie
Schwalbe, Will
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A poignant telling of the connection between a mother and son facing a terminal illness. Their love of books and their loving discussions validate the power of books in our lives.

Reviewer's Name: Ellen